2023 Author: Eric Donovan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-27 05:39
The technology group ABB is the world market leader in fast charging stations for electric cars. In an interview with Autogazette, Frank Mühlon talks about the expansion of the charging network, Formula E and the car manufacturers' moments of inertia.
A still inadequate charging infrastructure is one of the reasons for customers' reluctance to buy electric cars. In order for the expansion of the charging stations to proceed faster than before, a “concerted action” is necessary, as Frank Mühlon said in an interview with Autogazette. “I think that all parties, from politics to manufacturers and energy providers, are in demand,” added Mühlon, who is responsible for global business in the charging infrastructure at ABB.
As Mühlon said, it “doesn't make sense for him that a single manufacturer, like Tesla, builds its own charging infrastructure. This was necessary for Tesla as a pioneer, but it is not scalable in terms of breadth ». Ultimately, the operation of charging stations is a business model - «and it has to be sustainable. This is the only way to start up ».
It's always easy to rail against politics
The ABB manager does not believe that politicians in particular are asked to expand the charging infrastructure. «In Germany, some funding has already been made available, but as far as I know, not all of the money has been called up. It's always easy to scold politics, but I wouldn't do it here ».
As Mühlon added, it is difficult for the operators of charging stations to develop a business model from this. “If I set up fast charging stations with a low level of utilization because there are few vehicles on the road, it will take a long time for the amortization. So what Ionity is doing in the high-power sector is good, also motivated by the vehicle manufacturers who are behind it », says Mühlon.
We feel very connected to electromobility
Autogazette: Mr. Mühlon, ABB has been the title sponsor of Formula E since last year. Have you noticed that since then the perception of ABB's commitment to electromobility has changed?
Frank Mühlon: We got into Formula E because we feel very attached to electric mobility. But in the short time we have yet to see any significant change in perception in terms of breadth. However, we have noticed that we at ABB are getting more and more employees excited about the topic. Electromobility creates emotions, as you can see in Formula E.
Autogazette: So you are assuming that Formula E will bring the topic of e-mobility closer to the masses?
Mühlon: We're not that far yet, but that's our wish. During the race in Berlin I came to the racetrack by taxi: the taxi driver asked me what was going on here. Because of this question, I know that we have not yet achieved this goal.
Autogazette: Against this background, would you have wished for the EU's strict CO2 limit values earlier so that e-mobility could pick up speed faster?
Mühlon: I'm divided: the CO2 requirements are so strict that they have almost no chance of achieving them other than with e-mobility. When I put on the e-mobility glasses, that's great. If I look at it all in all and visualize the energy mix, then I have only gained something if I have enough green electricity. So we need the vehicles, the infrastructure, a stabilization of the grids and I need renewable energies as a basis.
Autogazette: Let's assume that 30 cars are charging at the same time at a motorway service station at a fast charging station. Is that feasible with the power grid?
Mühlon: We extrapolated that for Germany: If 100 percent electric vehicles were on the road here, we would only need ten percent more energy than we have now. So that's not the problem, it's the simultaneity. If everyone charges their e-car at the same time, we have a problem, but that's where we come to intelligent charging - and with that you can get the problem under control.
With Formula E we reach the masses
Autogazette: Until now, it was mostly experts who knew that ABB is the world market leader in fast charging stations. How important is it for you as a supplier that the general public is aware of this?
Mühlon: When you are in the B2B business, you do not appear in the perception of the masses. But with Formula E we reach the masses. That helps us for branding in total. This makes it possible to distinguish a brand from the B2B business.
Autogazette: It's always said that motorsport is capable of transferring technology to series production. Where do you see starting points?
Mühlon: As with Formula 1, we see a number of starting points. So we built the chargers for the Jaguar I-Pace Trophy, which is taking place at the same time. They have a different degree of robustness. We learned a lot there so that ultimately the end customer benefits. I wouldn't be surprised if we also integrate a charging process into the races in one of the coming seasons in ABB Formula E.
Autogazette: Can you say how many fast charging stations ABB has installed worldwide to date? A few months ago there was talk of 6500 stations.
Mühlon: A lot has been added: Globally, we have now sold 10,500 fast charging stations, we are approaching 11,000.
Autogazette: Electromobility is currently picking up speed. In which country do you see the greatest demand? Is it norway
Mühlon: In Norway, our customers have installed around 600 ABB fast charging stations, but we are currently seeing great demand in Germany. E-mobility is slowly picking up speed here, and the same applies to the USA.
Autogazette: Do you have the impression that politicians have recognized that more commitment is needed to expand the infrastructure?
Mühlon: In Germany, some funding has already been made available, but as far as I know, not all of the money has been called up. It's always easy to rail against politics, but I wouldn't do it here. Rather, it is difficult for the operator to develop a business model. If I set up fast charging stations with a low level of utilization because there are few vehicles on the road, it takes a long time for the amortization. So what Ionity is doing in the high-power sector is good, also motivated by the vehicle manufacturers behind it.
We can only move forward through concerted action
Autogazette: Whose job do you think it is to take care of the infrastructure?
Mühlon: I think that all parties, from politics to manufacturers and energy suppliers, are in demand. We can only move forward through concerted action. It makes no sense for a single manufacturer, see Tesla, to set up its own charging infrastructure. That was necessary for Tesla as a pioneer, but it is not scalable in terms of breadth. Operating charging stations is a business model - and it has to be sustainable. This is the only way to start up.
Autogazette: How do you see the manufacturers' model policy at the moment?
Mühlon: The models are still well below expectations. The fact that there is no way back, that there is no longer any way around electric mobility, has not yet reached everyone's mind. There is still quite a bit of inertia. When I look at Volkswagen, for example, the announcements were quite full-bodied, but the first model won't come until mid-2020. There are still a few places where things get stuck.
Autogazette: Is the crux of the matter in the battery cells ? With Korean manufacturers I have to wait over a year for an electric car.
Mühlon: There are two issues: A it is profitability. I have to tell my shareholders that the payout will be smaller for the time being, which is putting board members under pressure. The other issue is battery availability and the battles that are being waged on the supplier side.
Autogazette: According to figures from the Federal Association of Energy and Water Management, there were 16,100 charging points in Germany in 2018, 12 percent of which were fast chargers. Have you made any calculations as to where the need lies?
Mühlon: We are assuming that 1.1 AC chargers are required for each electric car and one fast charger for every 200 electric cars.
Autogazette: If you drive an e-car, you don't want to plug your car into a socket for hours. Against this background, isn't the expansion of fast chargers particularly important?
Mühlon: Absolutely. But there are different use cases: do I charge at home, do I charge on the go or do I charge on long journeys? The charging infrastructure must match these use cases. If I look at the 1.5 percent of drivers who drive electrically today, then almost 100 percent of them are people who have a garage and a solar system on the roof. But when I bring e-mobility to the masses, I have apartment buildings or the lantern parkers. This shifts the use case.
It's a big investment for us
Autogazette: What is ABB doing to drive the expansion of fast charging systems?
Mühlon: It's a big investment for us. At ABB we stand for the topic, we broaden the topic. Our research and development is advancing. We have been putting fast chargers with a charging capacity of 350 kilowatts on the road for over a year now. There are now also competitors who offer something like this, but we were the first over a year ago and worked with industrial partners to create the basis for technological development. This shows ABB's commitment.
Autogazette: It's just stupid that there is currently no car that can be charged with such power.
Mühlon: (laughs) Yes, but the 350 kilowatts didn't fall from the sky. At the end of the year, with Porsche, there is a manufacturer that wants to be able to do that with the Taycan. If the manufacturer manages it, he has the charging infrastructure and others will follow suit.
Autogazette: VW boss Herbert Diess recently called for an end to technology openness and a focus on pure e-mobility? Does ABB welcome this?
Mühlon: Personally, I am in favor of being open to technology. I believe that e-mobility can no longer be stopped and that it will reach a high double-digit number of registrations on the way. But it's not about coercion.
Frank Mertens conducted the interview with Frank Mühlon
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